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1835 in an envelope

Oct 30, 2008 2:46 PM | 0 comments

Nine straight-edged pieces of colored paper lay stuffed into an envelope in the bottom drawer of a map case until, one day, a curious Brooklyn Collection librarian took them out and pieced them together. 


In colors as bright as they day they were painted, Daniel Haskel’s Map of the City of Brooklyn from 1835 took back the shape it had lost after tearing along all of its folds at some unknown time in the past.  At just 11 by 14 inches it was once a handy pocket map that showed downtown Manhattan as well as Williamsburgh and the newly chartered City of Brooklyn. The outlines of the City Wards in green, yellow, orange and magenta, looked so fresh they could have been painted yesterday, instead of over 170 years ago.  The map was sent out to a professional conservator, repaired, encapsulated and made ready for use in a busy public library.  

Compared to the beautiful Hooker’s map of 1827, Haskel’s lacks detail. The inlet from the Gowanus Bay--now a canal--is still a winding stream draining marshes and millponds, with a street grid laid over it.  The Gowanus road follows the undulating course of an Indian path, while Third Avenue, the only numbered avenue on the map, goes dead straight in the same direction.  The bends and turns of the Jamaica Turnpike lie almost parallell to the unyielding Rail Road to Jamaica. In the palimpsest of the city, one can still come across vestiges of roads that predate the straight lines favored by developers, but in Haskel's map the new ways and the old lie side by side in plain sight--a snapshot of a moment before the victory of the new ways was complete.